Are You Taking Your Probiotics Correctly? I Wasn't!

Updated on June 5, 2019
AHreha profile image

I am a chronic illness warrior who is always on the lookout for scientifically proven ways to support natural wellness.

Turns out, I’ve been taking probiotics wrong my whole life! And maybe you have too. Here's everything you need to know to get the most out of your probiotic supplements.
Turns out, I’ve been taking probiotics wrong my whole life! And maybe you have too. Here's everything you need to know to get the most out of your probiotic supplements.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are living bacteria that support overall health. Your body is naturally full of good (and bad) types of bacteria, most of which live in your intestines. In fact, there are a greater number of bacteria in your intestines than there are cells in your whole body. These friendly microorganisms make up your gut flora and do things like produce vitamins B and K, stimulate your immune system and boost your metabolism.

Not having enough probiotics in your gut (an imbalance called “dysbiosis”) can lead to a variety of health conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, weight gain, and can significantly lower your body’s ability to fight infection. Keeping these tiny organisms happy is incredibly important! But there’s a right way and a wrong way to take probiotic supplements.

Should You Take Probiotics With Food?

Ideally, the best time to take probiotics is just before a meal. Because probiotics are living things, they can die, and one of the things that kill probiotics in that capsule you’re about to swallow is acid. Part of the way your digestive system does its job is by producing hydrochloric acid. While this helps you digest your food effectively, it can reduce the efficacy of those fragile probiotic strains. One study showed that “survival of all the bacteria in the product was best when given with a meal or 30 minutes before a meal (cooked oatmeal with milk). Probiotics given 30 minutes after the meal did not survive in high numbers.”

If your diet includes a healthy amount of colorful, fiber-rich foods, you probably don't need a prebiotic supplement.
If your diet includes a healthy amount of colorful, fiber-rich foods, you probably don't need a prebiotic supplement.

Do I Have to Take Prebiotics With Probiotics?

Prebiotics are a type of fiber that feed the probiotics in your gut. Prebiotics can be found in foods such as apples, legumes, bananas, asparagus, onions, leeks, and garlic. Because prebiotics, such as inulin, cannot be digested by the small intestine, they travel to the lower gut and feed the probiotics living there.

While probiotics will certainly work on their own, taking prebiotics with them can potentially increase their efficacy. If you do chose to take a prebiotic supplement, it doesn’t matter if you take it at the same time as your probiotic, unless it will help you remember. However, because prebiotics occur naturally in so many foods, it’s probably more beneficial to focus on consuming a variety of fresh vegetables than to go purchase another supplement.

Do you take prebiotics or probiotics?

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Do You Have To Refrigerate Probiotics?

It depends. Some brands claim that their probiotic doesn’t need to be refrigerated because of their capsule’s coating. What is most important when purchasing probiotics is that they are high quality and that you follow the instructions on the label. Poor quality probiotics are likely already dead when you get them at the store, regardless of whether or not they require refrigeration.

If you’re unsure if your probiotics are still alive you can find out with a simple at-home test. Pour a few ounces of milk into a cup and let it reach room temperature, then open your probiotic capsule and pour the contents in and let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours. If it curdles and has a thick yogurt-like consistency, or has lumps, your probiotics are still alive and well!

Does It Matter What Strain of Probiotics You Take?

It depends what benefits you're wanting to get out of them. There are a variety of different strains of probiotic and each boasts a different set of health benefits.

  • lactobacillus acidophilus, the most commonly used probiotic, is great for fighting infections in the female reproductive system.
  • Bifidobacterium breve decreases digestive system discomfort.
  • Bifidobacterium bifidum fights harmful bacteria by lowering the pH so the bad bacteria cannot thrive.

For a more thorough discussion of the various benefits of each type of probiotic, click here.

Kefir and yogurt are two excellent ways to increase your probiotic intake because they keep the healthy bacteria alive all the way to their destination!
Kefir and yogurt are two excellent ways to increase your probiotic intake because they keep the healthy bacteria alive all the way to their destination!

Is It Necessary to Take Probiotics if You Eat Probiotic Rich Foods?

No! In fact, it’s better if you get your probiotics from food sources. Because fermented foods and drinks such as kefir are acid resistant, the probiotics stay viable all the way down your digestive tract. In fact, one study showed that consuming dairy fats at the same time as a probiotic supplement was more effective than swallowing a probiotic supplement with juice or water. This is part of what makes kefir such an effective probiotic delivery system. Some other food to consider when trying to incorporate more probiotics into your diet are kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and yogurt. Some of these can even be made at home with surprisingly little effort!

Turns out, I’ve been taking probiotics wrong my whole life! And maybe you have too. Here's everything you need to know to get the most out of your probiotic supplements.
Turns out, I’ve been taking probiotics wrong my whole life! And maybe you have too. Here's everything you need to know to get the most out of your probiotic supplements.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

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      • AHreha profile imageAUTHOR

        Abigail Hreha 

        3 months ago from Oregon

        Glad I could help, Ramona!

      • ramonabeckbritman profile image

        Ramona 

        3 months ago from Arkansas

        Nice article. I do take a daily probiotic and was wondering if I needed to take a prebiotic also. Thanks for answering my question.

      • AHreha profile imageAUTHOR

        Abigail Hreha 

        4 months ago from Oregon

        Thank you for the kind comment, Jennifer!

      • Jennifer Jorgenson profile image

        Jennifer Jorgenson 

        4 months ago

        Great article on an important topic. Thanks for sharing this! I use both pre and probiotics in food form. Thanks for listing examples of both!

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